Rightly enough with a title as strong as that, Darren Watson wastes no time, kicking his latest album off with Getting Sober For The End Of The World, an instant classic bluesy track strummed on his acoustic guitar to a handclap and snare rhythm, with bar room piano and substantial brass accompaniment giving the sense it was captured live and real.
The track deservedly got Watson into the finals of the US-based Unsigned Only Music Competition for 2020 – in both Blues and Americana sections – and is this album’s clear standout. Now that’s not to suggest that there isn’t more quality music among the so-named album’s eight other tracks, because there is, but fair to say a number are more purist in their blues base and appeal.
By dint of example, the album closes out with Robert Johnson’s Preachin’ Blues (Up Jumped The Devil), presented with the integrity of just voice and acoustic guitar, with rapped knuckles for percussion. Another Day is almost as sparse, though played with a brilliant slide guitar and languorous single-string upright bass rhythm. The slide comes out again on Ernie Abbott, a simple yet movingly profound appeal for justice on behalf of the Wellington Trades Hall caretaker mysteriously killed in a suitcase bombing back in 1984, a murder for which still no-one has been brought to justice.
Alison Jane, which follows, is a captivatingly funky love song featuring some exceptional swampy Telecaster guitar from Rick Holmstrom, long-time musical director for soul music legend Mavis Staples. As Watson has said, everyone here “…played their asses off,” and the performances captured are rich with emotional dynamics. To that accolade needs to be added his own strong, consistently measured soulful voice, along with credit for the album’s production, recording and mixing.
There’s one other cover song, the emotionally wrought Love That I Had, by fellow Wellington singer-songwriter Matt Hay, a sometimes sideman for Watson, that fully warrants inclusion. But getting back to the song that gives the album its eye-catching title, Watson says that Getting Sober For The End Of The World wasn’t written about the Covid crisis (as in late 2020 it’s tempting to presume), rather it was climate change that was on his mind. He has previously shown himself willing to take on matters of political import (witness the legal hooha around Planet Key), and the important messages here are played out impeccably. Arresting even.